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John Furlong, CEO of VANOC, right, accepts the Olympic Village key from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in November, 2009. (Lyle Stafford/Lyle Stafford for the Globe and Mail)
John Furlong, CEO of VANOC, right, accepts the Olympic Village key from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in November, 2009. (Lyle Stafford/Lyle Stafford for the Globe and Mail)

Vancouver mayor recalls a gold medal saved, and a riot dodged Add to ...

Canadians reacted with dismay and absolute despair when the country's hockey gold medal was seemingly snatched from its grasp in the final seconds of the classic Olympic showdown against the United States.

For Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, however, peering down on the action from a dignitary suite, Zach Parise's late, third-period equalizer caused even more angst. He was concerned there might be a riot in the streets if Canada lost in overtime.

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That's what happened the last time Vancouver hockey fans felt jilted so close to a huge victory, when the hometown Canucks lost the seventh game of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals to the New York Rangers by a single goal.

"I couldn't help thinking, 'What are the implications on the street, should we lose this one?' " Mr. Robertson recalled in an interview Thursday.

"Are we ready? I was thinking Stanley Cup riot, times 10. Just the sheer number of people downtown, and how grumpy we'd all be, if there hadn't been a happy ending … Those logistical nightmares were at the front of my mind for the next half hour."

But, as everyone knows, Sidney Crosby scored the "golden goal" and jubilation reigned, no more so than on the mayor's perch. "There were definitely a couple of levels of relief and joy, for me."

Apart from that brief blip of nervousness, however, last year's Olympic Games were a blast, said Mr. Robertson, as he prepared to dig his well-worn Canada hockey jersey out of the trunk for this weekend's anniversary of the start of the Games.

"My most lasting memories are of being in the streets celebrating … the high fives, O Canada, bhangra jamming. It was all of Vancouver and the world on display. They took it to a level beyond sport."

Lukewarm about the Games before becoming mayor, Mr. Robertson now says their success gave the city "a huge jolt of confidence" that he believes is permanent.

"It has strengthened our capacity to do more as a city, to be more influential, internationally. It showed, when given a chance, that we could shine on the world stage. I am convinced the Games fundamentally changed Vancouver."

However, Mr. Robertson admitted that the ongoing financial mess of the Olympic Village is an obvious target for critics of the Games.

In the long term, he said, the Village will be a huge asset for the city, "a great neighbourhood for generations. But in the short term, it's a massive problem for us to solve, financially.

"There were a series of bad decisions by a previous council, and it may take many more years to sort out. … Sadly, the Olympic Village has taken its lumps, even though it's an extraordinary place."

On another matter, Mr. Robertson rejected criticism of him by VANOC CEO John Furlong in his just-published Games memoir. Mr. Furlong accused the mayor of inserting himself - against protocol - into the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame at Olympia, Greece.

"I don't agree," said Mr. Robertson. "My job was to represent the city of Vancouver, and I took that seriously. I was told by Greek officials that it was important for me to be there.

"There are always going to be a few elbows up in the process, with so many levels of representatives involved, so I take all this with a grain of salt."

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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